The BBC recently ran a story on Forgotten Foods, the main thrust of this was Black Pudding - though Oxtail would fit in equally well. Indeed in many cases Oxtail is best forgotten. Talking recently to someone who is a food festival regular and has eaten at some of our finest dining establishments she said “I’ve never had Oxtail except soup and it was horrible” She was almost certainly right about the horrible but that is much more to do with the powdered tomato and onion mix used to make the soup than the Oxtail itself.
There may well be another reason for Oxtail being forgotten – it is seen as food for the poor. If you can’t afford ‘proper’ beef you buy Oxtail, indeed the average diagram of Cuts of Beef ignores it entirely.
Most butchers do not stock Oxtail and those that do seem to value it at around the same price as Fillet Steak! How different in Ireland where it is widely available and is also cheap! The best bet in the UK is to look for Oxtail in Farmers Markets where some of our serious ‘nose to tail’ producers not only have it but at a very reasonable price.
Ok maybe some of the declining popularity of Oxtail is the fact that it takes time to bring to its full rich melting potential, but as with baking bread, there are short periods of activity followed by time taking its course.
I bought my Oxtail from Cig Lodor, a Pembrokeshire Farm at the Riverside Farmers Market in Cardiff and got the entire tail for a mere £3.50. OK you get some bone and fat in that but the meat is great value!
First the individual segments were seared to get a good browning going and to start to melt the bone marrow that will add so much richness to the finished dish and then about a litre of home-made Beef Stock was added. I made mine from the bones of a superb Rib Roast that I had on New Year’s Eve and froze. Add a little water if needed to ensure that the bones are covered them bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
I usually allow around three to four hours for the simmer then remove the tail pieces, take the fat off and ease the meat from the bones. On the larger sections at the top of the tail you should get pieces about the size of your thumb and about four from each bone. Towards the tip these will be much smaller but equally tasty and may come off as thin shreds. Return the meat to the stock and bring back to the simmer for 10 minutes or so before cooling and placing in the fridge overnight.
As the Oxtail rests it will soften further and both absorb and add to the stock.
The following day take the beef and stick which will have set into a solid block and can be removed and brought back to room temperature whilst the other ingredients are prepared.
Onions, I use both Red and white, are chopped into rough eigths you want reasonable chunks and not too fine a dice. Celery is cut into thin slices and sweated off with the onion in a little butter and seasoned with freshly ground pepper. After about 10 minutes add a good glug of Red Wine (Stout would be a good alternative) and an equal amount if Port. Red wine sauces always benefit from the sweetness of Port and I suspect that the Brandy used to fortify the Port helps too. A couple of fresh Bay Leaves from the garden and several halved Mushrooms completed the mix.
Once this has reduced by ¾ Add a couple of sliced carrots.
Skim the fat off the top of the Oxtail and stock, it should have set pretty firmly to make it easy, and add the meat and stock to the pan. Bring back to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour or so.
Now for the bit that adds real depth of flavour and smoothness to the sauce.
I add Boudin Noir. Black Pudding would do, but certainly in the UK, it tends to add either pinhead oats or large pieces of fat neither of which enhance the overall taste and texture. Boudin Noir, on the other hand, merely enhances the sauce and produces a velvety finish and a subtle herby spiciness. Native Breeds a charcuterie producer from Lydney in Gloucestershire make an epic Boudin and sell through Farmers Markets so I got some at Undy Farmers Market. This was crumbled in about half an hour before I served the dish and worked its magic in that time. Once added I tasted and added a little Halen Mon Smoked Sea Salt to balance the sweetness of the sauce and to introduce a slight smokiness.
Finally with 20 minutes to go I slipped a few herbed dumplings into the pan and let them swell and develop.
Served simply in a bowl and with crusty home baked breads to soak up the extra sauce the meal earned rave reviews from Mrs K who declared it both Scrumptious and Unctuous.
Simple food done well, and Local and Great.
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